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Is Occam's Razor a Physical Thing?

  • J. J. C. Smart (a1)

In his discussion note ‘J. J. C. Smart, Materialism and Occam's Razor’ Peter Glassen argues that it was inconsistent of me both to assert that realism is true and that Occam's razor (or any other principle for that matter) is a reason for the materialist thesis. Glassen says that Occam's razor ‘is not a physical thing, state or process at all’. A little further down on the same page he uses the phrase ‘material or physical thing, state, or process’. It is possible, therefore, that Glassen regards the distinction between ‘material’ and ‘physical’ as unimportant in the present context. I think however that one way of replying to Glassen turns on this distinction.

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1 Philosophy 51, No. 197 (10 1976), 349352.

2 Ibid., 350.

3 General relativity is consonant with an absolute theory of space-time, partly because of the difficulty of reconciling Mach's principle with it. It is wrong to think that relativity (special or general) implies a relational theory of space-time, though of course it does go against absolute theories of space and time taken separately.

4 On predicates which relate material things to numbers, see Quine W. V., Word and Object (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1960), 245.

5 In correspondence D. M. Armstrong has raised the question of how the term ‘abstract object’ has come to be used in this way in recent philosophy. It is hard to find it so used before Whitehead. Sets (and Platonic Forms for that matter) are not abstract in the sense in which Locke talked of ‘abstract ideas’. They are particulars to which their members are related by the relation of set membership (or in the case of Platonic Forms, participation).

6 Chihara Charles S., Ontology and the Vicious-Circle Principle (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1973).

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  • ISSN: 0031-8191
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